Banned Books Week and Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden

Posted by on Oct 2, 2012 in Fiction, General Discussions, LGBTQIA, Review, The Blog | 1 comment

Banned Books Week and Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden

by Holly Kench

Annie on My Mind by Nancy GardenThis week is Banned Books Week in the US. In Australia, we don’t have quite the censorship problem that seems rife in the States. Although some censorship does occur, for example I’m aware some of our Catholic schools put limitations on books which include safe sex practices, it doesn’t extend so far as the school library censorship in the US. You can find a list of the top challenged books in the US for 2011, and the reasons, here. I’ve always found the idea of book banning and censorship quite ridiculous. As John Hansen at Teens Can Write Too says, “It’s deprivation of books. It’s unfair.”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear about a book that has been widely challenged, that’s just about all the incentive I need to read it. I don’t recall if this contributed to my decision to pick up Annie on My Mind the first time I read it, but banned book week seemed like a good time to discuss it.

Annie on My Mind is a contemporary young adult novel by Nancy Garden, published in 1982 to good reviews. It has never been out of print and has received a number of young adult fiction awards and was named one of the top 100 most influential books of the 20th Century by the School Library Journal. It is also listed among the top most frequently challenged books between 1990 and 2000.

Why? Because it is a love story between two girls – homosexual themes. The story begins when the protagonist Liza meets Annie, a girl from the other side of the tracks, and follows them as they fall in love, navigate their understandings of homosexuality and identity, and must deal with others’ responses to their relationship. I imagine all this would have been enough to cause challenges against the book, but what makes Annie on My Mind truly radical is that it was the first young adult novel with a lesbian protagonist to have a clearly happy ending.

Certainly, its happy ending is what makes Annie on My Mind such a treasured story, but for me the most touching part of the novel is when Liza and Annie seek understandings of their love through books. After being disheartened by the encyclopedia’s definition of homosexuality, as it failed to mention love, Liza and Annie search for and read books with lesbian themes such as Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller. In her narration, Liza discusses the importance of these books to her self identity and understanding, “I felt as if I were meeting parts of myself in the gay people I read about.” But Annie and Liza also talk together about the difficulties for gay teens in finding such texts, ‘”It’s terrible,” she said, “for us to have been so scared to be seen with books we have every right to read.”‘ It is this, the novel’s own discussion of books and freedom to read them, that has always touched me and which makes it so relevant this week.

Annie on My Mind by Nancy GardenOf course, just as Annie on My Mind discusses the limitations on literature, it has been the victim of censorship. The novel’s history is rather tumultuous and controversial, but it’s also one that gives me hope. Annie on My Mind was first challenged in 1988 in Oregon and was challenged often through the 90s. It was even burned on the steps of the hall housing the Kansas City School Board in 1993 after copies were donated by an LGBT support group to a local school library, and the book was subsequently banned from the school district. However, two years later, the banning was ruled unconstitutional thanks to the efforts of children and parents, as well as local librarians who risked their jobs to fight the removal of the novel.

Unfortunately, books continue to be banned and censored for the most inane reasons, limiting the access available for teens to consume books which they are well within their rights to read. So what can you do to celebrate free and easy access to books and to fight against censorship? Check out the banned books discussions on the internet, many of which offer giveaways of banned books.*  Talk to your school about their text selection practices. Question all forms of censorship, and, most importantly, read a banned book.

“Let’s not be scared to buy books, or embarrassed,

and when we buy them, let’s not hide them in a secret bookcase.”

– Annie on My Mind p. 154.

– Holly Kench, Visibility Fiction.

*Teens can Write Too are giving away a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in conjunction with YA Misfits, and Helen Boswell is giving away copies of her recent release Mythology. Andrea Hannah and Leigh Ann Kopans are also giving away a copy of Twenty Boy Summer! Please let me know if you spot any other banned books giveaways so I can add them here.

One Comment

  1. What a wonderful post. I’m ashamed, though not surprised that I’ve never heard of this book.

    Of course books like ANNIE are banned. Hell, Harry Potter was banned.

    It’s sad that we (Americans, library committees, schools, parents and teachers) are so worried about keeping people who are different than the “norm” from being visible, but give no thought to showing a man kill himself on the news; or we’re not nearly as disturbed by why we have children being bullied in school (because our society fosters ostracizing the “other”); or any other number of terrible things.

    My point being that we spend way too often concerned about these things in the entirely wrong way. We’re worried about the ideas it’s going to put into our youths’ minds. What I wouldn’t give to MAKE THEM THINK. This book is going on my bookshelf at school.

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